Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I felt it a duty to call on Mr. Thouvenel to-day, in reference to the views and position of France, as respects our unfortunate difficulty with England. I had understood that the French government had expressed its views to Lord Cowley, and thought, therefore, that it would have no objections to doing the same to me. Mr. Thouvenel said at once that the taking of Messrs. Slidell and Mason off a British ship was the affair of England, not theirs, but he had no hesitation in saying that it was the opinion of the French government that the act was a clear breach of international law; that the French government could not permit the application of such a principle to their ships. He added that all the foreign maritime powers with which he had conferred agreed that the act was a violation of public law. He said, furthermore, that he had at once communicated these views to Mr. Mercier. In view of what bad been the past conduct of the British and French governments in our affairs, and their joint action in the affairs of other nations, I thought it best to ask bluntly whether, in the event of a war with England, we were to expect France to go beyond the expression of her opinion? Whether she would or would not be a neutral power? He said, of course, it was not their affair; they would be spectators only; though not indifferent spectators; the moral force of their opinions would be against us. I told him that had I known he had communicated his views through Mr. Mercier, I should not have troubled him with this interview.
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With much respect, I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
His Excellency Wm. H. Seward, Secretary of State, &c., &c.